“WEIRD” RACE PAYS OFF FOR VEGAS WEEKEND
“That was really weird,” jockey J. D. Acosta acknowledged after winning Saturday’s featured seventh race allowance/optional claimer at Pimlico.
Indeed, it was. Despite a four-horse field, the $42,000 contest for three-year-old fillies had a little bit of everything.
With — as track announcer Dave Rodman styles it — a quarter to go at Pimlico, it appeared that Moonsafe would win for fun, while Acosta and his mount, Vegas Weekend, would struggle home, perhaps holding second, perhaps fading to third.
By race’s end, though, Vegas Weekend was nearly two lengths clear of runner-up Tayler’s Chrome, who was nearly two lengths clear of Moonsafe in the compact, four-horse field.
It was, perhaps, an apt conclusion to a tactically ridden race in which a late Acosta adjustment made a critical difference.
Bettors made Vegas Weekend, coming off a third-place finish in a Gulfstream Park allowance, the 9-10 post-time favorite. The Mineshaft filly, trained by Fausto Gutierrez for St George Stable LLC, had just one win from seven starts but had finished in the money six tmes.
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The win capped a productive day for the Gutierrez barn. About 25 minutes prior to the PImlico race, he had sent out Letruska to a win in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
In the Pimlico race, the compact field spent much of the early part of the race in each other’s hip pockets. It was Tayler’s Chrome, with John Hiraldo up, who provided the early markers, getting the half-mile in 47.54 seconds while maintaining a half-length lead.
Nearing the far turn, Moonsafe, with Julian Pimentel up, advanced three wide, with Vegas Weekend between horses, as that pair reached even terms with the leader.
“I wanted to keep my horse in striking position, like two-three lengths behind the pace,” Acosta said of the early positioning.
Soon, Tayler’s Chrome had fallen away, leaving Vegas Weekend at the rail and Moonsafe, moving comfortably, to her outside. The three quarters were gone in 1:11.71.
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“I didn’t want to keep choking my horse just to wait until Julian went by me, so I let it roll with Julian because I know that was one of the horses to beat in the race,” Acosta explained.
Entering the stretch, Moonsafe took charge, moving to take a lead of perhaps two lengths, with Vegas Weekend appearing to toil inside.
But when Moonsafe went by, Acosta steered his mount to the outside. Shown clear running room, and steered out onto the better part of the track, Vegas Weekend rediscovered her best stride and powered away to the victory in 1:46.05 for the 1 1/16 miles over a fast main track on a hot Baltimore Saturday.
“She didn’t want to go. She was really intimidated inside,” Acosta said of his mount’s seeeming to stop leaving the quarter pole. “Even though I feel like I put a head in front, she just didn’t want to give me everything she got. So when Julian went by me, I put her on the outside, and then she came back again.”
It was Acosta’s second victory of the day. The veteran now has nearly 3,400 wins in his career.
Vegas Weekend paid $3.80 to win and topped an exacta, with second choice Tayler’s Chrome underneath, that returned $8.30 for a buck. With her second career win, Vegas Weekend now has nearly $70,000 in career earnings.
One race prior, Prince Pere, a four-year-old Orientate gelding, powered to a win on the Pimlico turf to break his maiden as the 2-1 favorite in the field of nine.
Prince Pere’s win came in his first start since January and sixth outing overall. The Ann Merryman trainee, a homebred for Richard Blue, was ridden by Sheldon Russell to the win.